Mother Knows Least

I was thrilled when my daughter began learning a second language at day care. But what was I supposed to do when my three-year-old started engaging in conversations I couldn’t understand?
<span>III. </span><strong>Mother </strong><strong>Knows Least</strong>
Photograph by Randal Ford

Five years ago, when I was searching for day care for my first child, it didn’t occur to me that she might start learning Spanish before she could crawl. I was just looking for a sweet, affordable oasis for Mia, preferably near my office, and Escuelita del Alma, located on Austin’s busy Congress Avenue, fit the bill. The fact that the school was committed to Spanish immersion struck me as a nifty bonus.

When I was a child, learning a second language wasn’t a priority. I grew up in Wisconsin, the great-great-granddaughter of Irish, Norwegian, Welsh, English, and Belgian immigrants, most of whom moved to the Midwest about 130 years ago. Geographically, there was no urgent incentive to master a foreign language, since our Canadian neighbors to the north spoke English too. And though I took Spanish in high school, years later I hadn’t retained enough to take a conversation beyond “¿Cómo estás?” (God forbid the responder elaborated on “ Bien.”) Maybe because of his childhood proximity to Mexico, my Texan husband speaks passable Spanish and learns languages easily; on vacations, he’s comfortable conversing in the native tongue in Germany, Brazil, France, and

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